Bay of the Descending Dragon
If you can spare a 2-day trip out of Hanoi, then a visit to Halong Bay should definitely be on the cards. For more information on this natural site, take a clicking trip to Wikipedia here.About 170 kilometres east of Hanoi, the trip to Halong Bay by coach should have taken only an hour and a half at most, but with current speed limits on the nation's highways restricted to no more than 60 kph, be prepared for a really slow leisurely 3-hour drive along the countryside.
Beautiful limestone islands and outcroppings surround this calm and serene bay. According to local legend (as narrated by our local guide), Vinh Halong (otherwise known as the Bay of the Descending Dragon) was so named after a family of dragons had descended from the heavens to help the locals fight foreign invaders. The dragons spitted out jade and jewels which turned into the limestone islands surrounding the bay and kept the invaders out.
One can choose to do a day-trip (if pressed for time) but for us, the overnight stay on a junk anchored out on the bay was a nice respite from our usual hectic city-life. We had booked with Huong Hai Junks Company, and were pleasantly surprised that with a minimum booking of 6 persons, we had the entire junk to ourselves. There are about 5 bedrooms, all situated on the lower deck, each with attached bathrooms and hot water, the dining room is on the next level and finally a very comfortable sun-deck on the top level allows one to enjoy the sea-breezes and the warmth of the sun (very welcomed during the winter week of January). All meals (two lunches, a dinner and a breakfast) are served on board. Picture above was taken from our junk just as dusk approached. Absolutely serene, isn't it?
A word of warning though, entertainment on board the junk is truly up to the individual. The men might like to do a spot of fishing but if you are a bunch of 6 women like us, endless conversation and gossip into the night is entertainment enough.
While on the bay, we visited an enormous cave grotto called Hang Dau Go. The huge cavernous interior has three inner chambers and spectacular displays of stalactites and stalagmites. Some of them are shown in the pics below. Very awesome! The one below reminded me of a huge atomic mushroom cloud.
This one, with its blue lighting, looked like the craters of the moon.
On exiting the cave grotto, I also spotted this limestone formation of a pair of legs dangling over the ledge.
And finally, a shot of the six Gorge(ou)s doing a bit of vigorous morning boxercises on the deck of our junk! Our local guide collapsed totally in laughter after taking this shot, and so did we after all that high-kicking stuff!